A story in the news from Italy yesterday sounded like it was straight out of a sixteenth-century broadsheet.
A relic of Pope John Paul II’s blood was stolen from a church in the Abruzzo region. The relic at the church of San Pietro della Ienca consists of a piece of gauze, allegedly soaked in the pope’s blood, housed in a gold reliquary with an inscription reading “Ex Sanguine Beati Joannis Pauli II Papae.”
Italian police are investigating the burglary.
The reliquary seems to have been specifically targeted by the thieves, whose motives are unclear. Was this a heist for resale to devoted followers of Pope John Paul II? Or, is this an attempt to create conditions for a miraculous return of the relic, furthering calls for immediate sainthood? Alternatively, perhaps the vandals are iconoclasts or political radicals who want to destroy the relic because of its association with the modern Catholic sainthood campaigns?
We will have to wait and see….
In the sixteenth century, relics and the veneration of saints came under attack by radical reformers in Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands, England, and other areas of Europe. Groups of iconoclasts cleansed entire churches of relics, crucifixes, stained glass windows, statues, and tombs that were considered offensive. Calvinists were especially aggressive in performing iconoclasm, often in religiously divided communities where control of churches was disputed. Periodic waves of iconoclasm continued well into the seventeenth century in some areas.
However, identifying iconoclastic attacks is not easy. Soldiers and thieves could also target churches for plunder during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The gold and silver housings of reliquaries could be targeted, rather than the relics themselves.
The BBC reports on the theft of the relic.